Reporter Adam Lord takes a closer look at Preston North End’s humbling EFL Cup exit at Newcastle.
Cup quarter-final at stake or not - the league is Simon Grayson’s priority
In the three rounds before the trip to the North East PNE boss Grayson had rung the changes for the EFL Cup. Some thought that might change with what would have been a first ever league cup quarter-final up for grabs for North End but Grayson stuck to his guns. Having made 10 changes in the win against Bournemouth in the last round it was nine at St James’ Park. This time things didn’t go to plan with many questioning his thinking. Grayson is big on the squad ethic however and felt those that had performed so well at Dean Court deserved another crack in a competition which is clearly down the pecking order when it comes to priorities. From a press point of view assistant boss Glynn Snodin spoke to us pre-match as he has done in the earlier stages and previously the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. On the field Ben Pearson and Greg Cunningham were not involved at all as Grayson clearly had one eye on the league meeting between the sides on Saturday.
Nobody pressed their claim for a regular start
Whether Grayson was right or wrong to make the changes, those that did get an opportunity didn’t do their chances of a more regular berth in the starting line-up any good at all. Against Bournemouth in the last round the likes of Ben Pearson and Chris Maxwell made themselves impossible to drop, making their mark in PNE’s upturn in form in recent weeks. Others would have planned on doing the same at St James’ Park but it didn’t go to plan. It was good to see Liam Grimshaw get a start in his preferred midfield berth but as with so many players the game passed him by. Elsewhere, Eoin Doyle toiled leading the line and being pushed out on the left while the game was a big step up for Ben Davies. As for Anders Lindegaard, the stopper has now seen 11 goals fly past him in his last two appearances.
Newcastle will get promoted
On the evidence of Tuesday night’s demolition of PNE, Rafa Benitez will be leading Newcastle back the Premier League at the first attempt. The former Real Madrid and Liverpool manager has got things right on the field and the Magpies should be promoted at a canter come May, or more likely April when Preston return to St James’ Park for the third to last game of the Championship season. Yes there has been big investment but players like Matt Ritchie, Mo Diame and Dwight Gayle, the latter not needed against North End, know what the second tier is about and are proven at the level. No chances have been taken and the depth of the squad is staggering, shown by Benitez’s seven changes last night. While there has been discord off the field in recent seasons it was clear that nearly all the 49,000 in attendance were pulling in the same direction as the team on the field - the Premier League.
Beckford is on the way back
One plus point on Tuesday night, maybe the only one, was the sight of Jermaine Beckford’s name on a PNE team sheet. It has been two months since the striker limped off with a hamstring injury in the defeat at Ipswich. His return has been slow going but the 32-year-old was back amongst the substitutes at St James’ Park. On a different night he might have been given a gentle return to action but as the game panned out it became clear that Beckford’s return would have to wait. It will be interesting to see where he fits in, Jordan Hugill having taken his chance leading the line in Beckford’s absence.
Die-hard fans are a special breed
Well done to the 1,286 fans who watched the demolition of their side from up in the gods at St James’ Park. It was a night where the more than two hour drive home will have felt a lot longer. It took until the 86th minute for PNE to have an attempt on goal, two corners bringing big cheers from up on high before Paul Huntington brought a good save from Matz Sels with a header. After the 5-0 defeat at Brentford this was another away day to forget and those fans will be demanding a lot more when Newcastle head to Deepdale on Saturday.